Our emotions can surprise us sometimes. When Obama named Sonia Sotomayor as his nominee to replace Justice Souter on the United States Supreme Court, I was intellectually pleased that he had nominated an apparently outstanding candidate who would be another woman, and the first Hispanic woman, to sit on the Court. But I found that what really enthused me about Sotomayor was her Bronx roots — just like me! Her biography is well-known by now, but I reiterate here a few relevant high points: she grew up for part of her early life in the South Bronx, near Yankee stadium; she came from modest means; she is probably a Yankees fan; and she, or at least her mother (the newspaper stories I have read have been a bit unclear on this point) moved “up” at one point to live in the East Bronx in the subsidized housing project known as Co-op City.
I too grew up in the West Bronx, not too far from Yankee Stadium. My maternal grand-dad, Joe, lived only three blocks from the stadium. Unlike Sotomayor, I was lucky enough to have my parents both alive until I hit middle age (my dad is still alive and kicking at 86!). My mom was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. My dad was the sole breadwinner, first as a delivery man for a dry cleaning store, then, in later life, as a shirt salesman. My memories as a young kid are of scully (a bottle-cap game played on the hot summer tar in the middle of the street when cars weren’t approaching), stoop-ball, open fire hydrants gushing water in August, bullies, and gangs. In 6th and 7th grade I was routinely beaten up and threatened at knife point. So much so in 7th grade that I was terrified to go to school.
But I also loved school and worked hard at it, helped by my dad’s baby brother, Eugene, who had managed to go to college with the aid of the federal government as a Korean War Vet and who taught junior high school. Money was tight but not impossible. We ate three squares a day, had a loving home, and friends and neighbors passed their time chatting on the sidewalk, visiting each other’s apartments for coffee and danish, or even occasionally going out to the local Chinese restaurant. When I was 12, we moved to Co-op City, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Yes, Co-op City was subsidized housing, but it was then quite safe. The bullying stopped, and we lived in a brand new apartment. Otherwise, life was pretty much the same. Read More